Flag football fuels lasting relationships

Eight years ago, Harvest Baptist Church started its Upward Flag Football program as an outreach program to reach youth in the area with the message of Christ. The program is getting the message spread as it has grown exponentially throughout the years.

“We started out with about 80 kids,” Scott Miller, coordinator for the program and a coach of one of its teams. “We now have about 130 kids, 80 players and 50 cheerleaders.”

Miller said the goal of the program is use the sport to teach the kids about Jesus Christ and give them a competitive environment at the same time.

“We try to find that right balance,” Miller said. “We try to make it competitive but not so competitive that some of the kids lose interest.”

The league has eight teams and four cheerleading squads. The games are played on Saturday nights underneath the lights, just like the big time. The program just put up the lights on the north side of the Harvest Baptist facility.

“Before we had rented construction lights,” Miller said. “We had a theory that we would get more participation at night with everyone’s schedules being so busy. So far, that theory is paying off.”

The teams practice once a week. They are taught biblical life lessons and devotionals are held before each practice and game. Included in their teaching are Bible verses which the players try to memorize. Awards are given for each verse they remember.

“We try to plant that seed in their mind and heart,” Miller said. “It is great because you get to see first hand where the kids are growing spiritually.”

The league uses the seven-on-seven style, so all players get the chance to get their hands on the ball. All positions are skills positions, and every player gets equal playing time regardless of their ability.

“The goal is to get every kid involved,” Miller said. “Every position is a skill position and everyone can run the ball. There are a lot of things they can learn. You can teach a first-grader how to take a handoff or proper techniques on receiving the ball. We try to teach the kids character builders. We try to teach them to win gracefully and not be full of themselves. At the same time, we try to teach them how to be a gentleman when they lose.”

Though the coaches involved are Harvest members, players from the church comprises only about 60 percent of the teams. Miller said it is a way to possibly reach families and bringing them to church.

“It brings the kids here and connects us with their families,” Miller said. “The parking lot is full every Saturday and there are a lot of parents and grandparents here.”

The league was initially offered to grades 1-4, but now is open to players from grades 1-6.

Miller said lasting bonds are made.

“Coaching is a very rewarding volunteer position,” Miller said. “The player-coach relationship gets close and it is a long-lasting relationship.”